By Pastor Glenn Pease
Predicting the unpredictable is what weather forecasting is all about. There are so many variables that nobody can be sure what tomorrow holds. Back in 1816 Mt. Tambora in what is now Indonesia erupted with a blast 80 times greater than that of Mt. St. Helens, and sent a massive cloud of volcanic dust into the atmosphere that affected the weather of the Eastern United States. It affected it so much that 1816 was called the year without a summer. The temperature rarely got above 50 degrees. On July 4th in normally sultry Savannah, Georgia the high was 46. Snow, sleet, and ice caused crop damage as far West as Illinois. Such radical variations from the norm are impossible to predict, but even the normal variations make weather hard to nail down.
Love is like the weather in many ways. It is always a popular subject, and it affects all of us, and it is also hard to predict, for it too has many variations. Love is as mysterious as the weather. Adam and Eve had it made in the shade. They had a love enhancing environment, and even then the enemy of love was able to cloud their minds and seduce them into an unloving choice. This made the first storm that came to spoil the perfect sunshine of their relationship to God.
In that fallen family, however, there was still a lot of love, and Adam and Eve loved each other, and there was love for God, as well as love for their children. Love was still a major ingredient in their lives. But without all of the divisions of modern life even that small family developed bad relationships, and Cain, like lightening, struck down his brother Abel, and man's environment of love was invaded again by a storm of anti-love. And that is the pattern of the rest of history. It is like the weather, and you can be basking in the sunshine of love, and all of a sudden the clouds cover the sun, and you are plunged into darkness and the storm. David is basking in the sunshine of great victories over his enemies. God loves him, the people love him, and he has a loving family and lovely loyal wives. In the midst of all that love the storm of temptation strikes, and a flood of lust washes him off the road of righteousness, and David's life is never the same.
We could go on with illustration after illustration of how people can have the experience of love, and yet lack the ability to come through on the other end with the expression of love. Judas was so loved by Jesus that never once did Jesus embarrass him, even though he knew his heart was not right. He experienced an inflow of love like few in all of history, and yet his outflow was unloving betrayal. The major problem of life, therefore, which makes love as unpredictable as the weather is man's inability in the area of expression of love.
When Paul says, if one does not have love he is a sounding gong or clanging symbol, or if one does not have love he is nothing, he is referring to the outflow and not the inflow. The Corinthians had experienced the love of God and the love of Christ. They had experienced salvation, and they had experienced the multiple gifts of the Holy Spirit. They had all kinds of experiences of love, and yet their lives were tossed and troubled by the storms of non-loving behavior. The problem was not that they were unloved, for they were, and had abundant evidence of it. The problem was for them, as it was for Adam and Eve, David, and Judas, and every other human being, the expression of love. They had love in the sense of being objects of God's love, but they did not know how to express it.
God inspired Paul to give them this great love song as the greatest tool in history to aid men in the expression of love. Paul tells us what love does, and what it does not do. He reveals to us how to express love. This makes it clear that love has to be learned. Love is not automatic. It takes time and effort to learn how to express love. Love is patient Paul says. If Adam and Eve had just taken some time to talk over the temptation of Satan with God, they would have been expressing love, and that would have led to understanding and victory over the deceiver. Had David not acted on impulse, and had been patient in dealing with his temptation, he could have resolved it in love rather than lust. Had Judas shared his impatience with Jesus, and gotten his greed off his chest, he could have been released from the bondage that destroyed him. Patience can change the history of almost everyone.
The point is, there is a way of escape from all temptation, and that way is the way of love that patiently waits to see the escape route. Learning to express love is the highest level of learning. The story is told of the German professor who dreamed he saw two doors. One door led directly to love and paradise, and the other led to a lecture on love and paradise. There was no hesitation on his part, and he went in to hear the lecture. It sounds like a foolish choice of an egghead intellectual, but in fact, it is the wise choice, and the only choice God gives us. There is no easy road to love. Love is learned, and it is a hard subject, even for those who are redeemed children of God. It is no snap course, but the most challenging course in the university of life.
The experience of being loved is a gift that God freely bestows because He is love. We do not have to learn how to be loved, for we just are. But we do need to learn how to express love and be loving. Even natural love for family and friends needs guidance to be expressed wisely, and how much more the love for the unlovable, and for one's enemies. These expressions of love call for the most rigorous training. we train people hard to know how to hate and defeat an enemy. They are put through the rigors of boot camp, and they are forced to learn effective aggression.
We think the soldiers of the cross, however, do not need such training, and that we can march off into the world and just automatically know how to encounter the enemy with a spirit of love. It is just not so, for it is often very painful to try and love those who are unlovely. This is why Christians have failed in many battles. They did not know how to express love for the enemy.
They expressed hostility, prejudice, and all kinds of non-love, and so they lost the battle. They didn't even know how to use their greatest weapon, and so they used all kinds of other weapons without love, and they learned the hard way that what Paul was saying was true-everything minus love equals nothing.
History confirms this over and over. The great Christian failures of history all revolve around the fact that Christians did not know how to express love. All of North Africa and the Middle East should be Christian, for it was strongly Christian at one time. Then Christians began to fight among themselves, and like the Corinthians they chose their loyalties and began to persecute each other, and fight over all kinds of theological issues. The result was a divided and unloving church. When the Muslim invaders came many Christians, weary of the persecution and controversy, joined the invaders and Christians were removed as a force in that part of the world. They did not learn love, and the result was they lost their chance to be the light of that part of the world.
Christians have failed to win the Jews to Christ because they never learned to express love to them. Only in modern times do we see Christian groups working hard to learn love. In the Middle Ages the Jews were the prime target of Christian hostility. The Crusaders robbed and plundered and killed Jews for no other reason than that they were Jews. The expedition of Columbus to America was financed by confiscating the wealth of Jews. Christians have persecuted Jews all through history, and then we wonder why so few Jews believe that Jesus loves them.
The point I am making is that Christians do not know how to express the love of Christ just because they experience the love of Christ. The Dead Sea takes in water from the Jordan River, but no water ever flows out. It is possible to receive love and not know how to let it keep flowing through you out into the lives of others. This is the problem that leads Christians, like the Corinthians, to have so much and yet do so little. They have received so much love, but they are expressing so little love. Their very gifts are doing harm to the body of Christ. The storm that is rocking their boat is due directly to their lack of knowing how to express Christian love.
This is the great challenge of the church in every age-how to teach, and how to help Christians learn to express the love of Christ. Dr. Cecil Osborn, a leader in Christian psychology, says, "The final goal in all theology is to release within the individual a greater capacity to love." He is convinced that the small group is a key to helping Christians learn how to release this capacity, and learn how to express love. The resistance to small groups is evidence of the problem Christians have in expressing love. The fear of intimacy and the fear of getting to close to 8 to 10 people is the fear of love-that is the fear of expressing love. Because Christians have this problem the world starves for lack of love. It is like starving for lack of food. It is not that there is not enough food in the world for everybody, but the problem is in the distribution. It is piled up in one place and extremely rare in other places where people need it most. So it is with love. It is a distribution problem. It is a problem getting the outflow to match the inflow, and getting love to those who most need it.
In a novel by the Israeli writer Shim Shalom called Storm Over Galilee, there is a group of children gathered on the roof of the school taking turns looking through the telescope. They express awe and wonder, but one girl makes the comment, "Teacher, I want to be a star." The teacher asked, "Why?" She replied, "Because they are so lucky. Teacher loves those stars." Here was a hunger for love in a child who saw an adult express love for the distant stars, but who could not manage to express such love for her.
Children have the same problem expressing their love. I read of a problem child who just created all kinds of problem, and the teacher was frustrated with her. One day she saw her pin a note to a tree in the school yard, and when she left the tree the teacher went to see what it was. The note said, "To whoever finds this-I love you." The child did not know how to express love. She had it in her, but could not express it, and so non-love comes out instead. How many rotten people are really lonely people who cannot express love? It is easier to say that nobody loves me than to admit that I do not know how to love, but that is the real problem.
Back in II Sam. 23 there is a fascinating little story of only 5 verses in the life of David. He is camped in a cave outside Bethlehem where the Philistines were in control. David makes a remark, "Oh, that someone would get me a drink of the water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem." Three of his mighty men heard this remark and took it seriously. They broke through the Philistine line, and risked their lives to get the water from the well and get it back to David. He was so impressed with their love that he refused to drink the precious water gotten at such a price. He poured it out as an offering to the Lord. David did not need water from that well. He cold have taken a drink of water from the supply they already had, and we know he did or he would not have survived. His wish for that water was an expression of longing for the good old days of his youth in Bethlehem. He was happy with his family and friends that met his needs for love.
Now he is the king, and had many enemies and burdens. He wondered if even his closest friends really loved him, or just served him out of duty and obligation. All of us long sometimes for the good old days when love was assured. These three friends of David were not ordered to go get that water, but chose to do so in expressing their genuine love for him. David is overwhelmed by it, and feels that his deepest need was met, for he sees that he is still loved just as he was in his days of youth. These three friends expressed the essence of love by doing for him that which brightened his life, and gave him joy, not because they had to, or were ordered to, but because they chose to. Love is doing something for another voluntarily without feeling it is an obligation and a necessity. It is an act of free choice.
One of the primary values of the group experience is that it helps people discover ways of expressing love. For example, a man had a hard time understanding why his wife was so unresponsive to his giving of gifts. She would merely say that is nice and it almost seemed like indifference to him. In a small group she shared in one session that her mother did not know how to express love, and so she substituted gifts instead. She felt the need for love and not gifts. When she shared this it suddenly dawned on both of them why she was not responsive to the giving of gifts. They represented a substitute for love. When she saw this she was able to correct her attitude and recognize that the gifts that her husband gave were not a substitute for love but an expression of love. She may never have learned this apart from the group experience. Now she could respond with a flow of love out to express her love and joy for what she was given.